This morning, the Search for Common Ground (SFCG) hosted the Great Lakes Policy Forum, on “What Did the US-Africa Summit Mean for the Great Lakes Region?” IGD’s President and CEO, Dr. Mima Nedelcovych, was one of several panelists speaking at the forum, which included representatives from the National Endowment for Humanity, the U.S. Department of State, and Stanford University.
The Great Lakes Region covers the vast territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. It is named after the many enormous lakes in the area, including Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, two of the largest in the world. Although a promising and economically viable section of the continent, the Great Lakes Region has suffered from “decades of political instability and armed conflicts, porous borders and humanitarian crisis,” as noted by the United Nations.
At the panel today, the speakers discussed a range of fascinating topics leading out of the U.S.-Africa Summit, but one of the most frequently mentioned was the need to include more perspectives in determining the next steps for the region. Some of the most important perspectives lacking in that conversation? Civil society, and the private sector.
A country’s civil society is made up of the groups that represent the will of the people, but are not part of the government, such as the family and the press. Since the Great Lakes Region has been plagued by government corruption, its civil society provides an indispensable service in maintaining transparency and campaigning for change. Traditionally, business is not included in civil society. At today’s forum, the panelists dared to call that into question. Although business in Africa used to rely heavily on local governments and so had an unhealthy codependent relationship with potentially corrupt officials, it has now grown to the point that it can be truly independent. Since 2005, African industry has expanded to create large multinational corporations equal to many of their international competitors. Concurrently, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) within a given country represent a primary driver of community development and security.
According to several panelists, the greatest factor in the region’s continued stability and growth is the development of local business and international partnerships. With larger national markets, more of the people would be employed and more wealth would be circulating. The imperative is for local governments to support that growth, and to ensure a consistent rule of law, as well as a reliable infrastructure, for companies to build upon.
At the U.S.-Africa summit, American companies were shown the unusual opportunities available in African business, and they were highly interested in getting in on the ground floor of major new projects. After all, most of the world’s top ten expanding economies are in Africa. Between President Obama’s grand announcement of his Doing Business in Africa Campaign and the more than 80 side meetings that occurred before, after, and during the summit, every type of American international operator was immersed in the possibilities of Africa.
By following the changes suggested by today’s panel, the Great Lakes Region can make sure that its business opportunities are at the top.